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Letters to a Young Manager

Hire Somebody, Fire Somebody And Reorganize Somebody, #23
LTYM > Managing People II

Dear Adam,
The first few weeks in a management job are unlike any other time as a manager. You’ve heard about the “honeymoon period?” There’s a large chunk of truth in it.
When I took over a new job in Washington DC, I was faced with a turnaround situation. The challenge was to integrate two divisions following an acquisition. But that was not what was most memorable for me. Meeting the head of Sales was. Augie was the evangelist of evangelists, pumping up his telemarketing team week after week. The numbers showed it. He was also a student of motivational speakers and of management. We hit it off immediately.

Soon after I started, he said something that stuck with me. When you start as a new manager, he said, “you need to hire somebody, fire somebody and reorganize somebody.” In retrospect, I wish I had acted on his advice sooner. It was harder to do later.

A new manager has a license to change that is never stronger than when she first begins. Take advantage of this and act quickly. If you discover some weak links, or nay-sayers that won’t budge, move them out right away. Then hire replacements that exude the culture you want to create. Nothing will gear up change faster than these early moves.

I remember a story about Bill Houghton, the president of Chevron’s IT subsidiary[1]. He was faced with the technology revolution of the 90s and a staff that was still focused on mainframes. For the cultural change that was needed, Houghton assembled the 2,300 IT staff and told them he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that their jobs were all obsolete. The good news is that he had 1,800 new IT jobs for which they could apply. The result? A staff motivated to embrace the change. You can only do that at the start of a new position, or major event like a merger. It just doesn’t work otherwise.
Think about this. Your moves may not need to be as radical. But they will need to be early.

[1] Alice LaPlante, "Rightsizing Angst," Forbes ASAP, June 7, 1993, pp. 94-104.


A new manager has a license to change; use it quickly

Discussion Questions:

1) Was the Chevron president's approach excessive? Why or why not?
2) What alternative approaches for rapid, radical change can you think of?

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